Serious music fans and audiophiles alike all agree on one thing: Dave Brubeck's Take 5 is an essential part of the American musical conversation. It's also a very interesting recording of a very cool song. Search your library or favorite streaming service and let's listen to the recording strictly from a production point-of-view.

The song was written by saxophonist Paul Desmond in 1959. After a visit to Istanbul where he was mesmerized by the city’s street performers, Brubeck began experimenting with exotic time signatures during the production of the album Time Out. Up until the release of that album, jazz was pretty much a 4/4 affair with some detours into 6/8 time. The 5/4 time of Take 5 was indeed unique for the day, and broke ground for the experimental jazz that would become popular in the early 1960s.

Extra Credit Trivia: What's the only other 5/4 pop song to chart (in the US)? Hint: 1982. (Note: Radiohead, Jethro Tull, Dream Theater and Grateful Dead fans need not send me angry missives, we're talking about the US charts.)   

Double Extra Credit Trivia: Otherwise in 3/4 time, what classic, iconic, rock and roll song has an intro played in 11/4 time? 

 

Let's take a look at the recording and composition of Brubeck's original recording.

Dave Brubeck QuartetThe song was recorded at Columbia Studios on 30th Street in Manhattan on July 1, 1959 and had its live debut later the same month at the Village Gate in Greenwich Village.

The song opens with four measures of Joe Morello's looping, grace note infused rhythm before Brubeck's simple four chord theme comes in. On the fourth measure of Brubeck's piano intro, notice that the chord on the downbeat is missing, either from a mistake or by a strange design of the arrangement.

It's important to note that the original release would have been in monoaural and that the pan effects were added during later re-mastering, most likely in the 1960's. Stereo recording was a new technology, and as you'll notice with a lot of recordings throughout the early 1960's, the drums are all squished over on one channel. In this case, Morello resides in the left channel with a wonderfully clean and coherent reverb spreading the drums out to the right, giving the listener a sense of space. The piano is panned hard right.

Six measures after Brubeck's piano enters the scene, Eugene Wright's stand-up bass joins in with a simple, yet stunning three-note line that anchors the song for the rest of the journey. On the eighth measure, Paul Desmond's saxophone slides into the melody line that has been covered dozens of times and has set the mood for countless more movies and television shows. The sax is also panned hard right.

At the 0:51 mark you can hear the valves on Desmond's sax rattle slightly.   

Desmond then goes on a nice vamp for about a minute and as he pulls out you can hear Brubeck cue the band that a change is coming by changing the chords slightly.

If you listen carefully during Morello's drum vamp you can hear Wright slapping the bass and the buzz of the strings. A good example of this is at the 2:13 mark and at the 2:34 mark. From 2:34 on, while Morello is working mainly off the snare drum, you can hear the string slap very clearly with each note. Another thing to listen for is the depth of Morello's kick drum - you can easily hear the size and depth of the drum in this recording.

The snare itself during this section is crisp and clean and is a great example of the use of stereo imaging between the actual drum in the left channel and the reverb in the right channel.

At 3:16, you can hear the band begin to dig-in and play with a little more authority. By 3:25 the piano and bass are settled back down, adding tension to the section. With modern comping and compression effects, this kind of subtle interplay and dynamics between musicians is pretty much non-existent in most studio recordings today, and this change in dynamics is one reason this song is such a treat to listen to.

At 4:15 the band all but stops playing, signaling the return of the theme and Desmond's sax. When Desmond returns at 4:21, you can clearly hear him adjusting his mouth position on the reed before settling back into the melody line. 

At the end of the tune, as you stub out your Pall Mall and take one last sip of your gin and tonic before heading out into a Manhattan night lit by shady characters beneath fog-shrouded streetlights, you can hear Morello's ride cymbal decay completely before the track is completed.

 

 

Extra Credit Trivia Answer: Face Dances Part 2, by Pete Townshend

Double Extra Credit Trivia Answer: Whipping Post by the Allman Brothers Band